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Aardvarks are mainly nocturnal and solitary, except for mothers with young. While females tend to stay in one area, males are more apt to wander. Excellent diggers, aardvarks plow into the earth with their muscular front limbs and long, blunt claws. They make quick work of excavating a hole—aardvarks can dig a burrow big enough to fit into in just 5 to 20 minutes! The burrows are used for shelter, gathering insects, avoiding predators, and giving birth. Dozens of other animals, such as small mammals and birds, use abandoned aardvark burrows for shelter. Because of this, the species is considered very important in the habitats where it lives.
The aardvark has a steady diet of ants, termites, and other insects, which it digs out of the ground and slurps up with a sticky, foot-long tongue. While foraging at night, the animal presses its snout to the ground and follows a zigzag motion to pick up scents. As it goes from one termite nest to another, it covers an average of 6 miles a night. This route is repeated weekly. To obtain water, aardvarks will occasionally dig up wild cucumber plants.
Some of My Neighbors
Ground squirrels, civets, hyenas, jackals, porcupines, hares, warthogs, monitor lizards, lions, apes, birds, elephants, giraffes
After a gestation period of about 8 months, aardvarks give birth to one, or occasionally two, offspring. In Central Africa, babies are born in October and November but in southern Africa, births may occur earlier. The newborn, hairless aardvark weighs about 4 pounds and stays in the burrow for about 2 weeks. Then it joins its mom on nightly foraging excursions.
At 3 months, the young starts to eat solid foods and by 6 months it can dig its own burrows. Males stay with their mothers for 6 months and females stay even longer, until the next baby is born. Aardvarks reach adult size at about 1 year and sexual maturity at 2 years. In zoos, they live about 23 years.
Population Status & Threats
The aardvark is not listed as threatened, but its numbers and range have decreased. The main threat it faces is habitat destruction due to agriculture. People sometimes kill aardvarks for meat or to use their body parts, such as claws and teeth, for charms and medicinal purposes. In certain areas, they have become extinct. Having such a limited diet makes them very vulnerable to changes in the environment.
WCS Conservation Efforts
WCS leads programs throughout the aardvark’s range in Sub-Saharan Africa. WCS helps manage wildlife parks, map habitats, track the aardvark’s neighbor species, involve communities in conservation, and assess the impacts of human activity on wildlife in the region. WCS camera traps have captured the first sighting on record of an aardvark in the rainforests of Gabon.
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